The art installation was made by 150+ community members last year
By Brooke Spach | Photography by Mick Schulte
Katie Murray had her eye on the blank wall in Hillsborough’s Eno River Parking Deck from her first day as director of the Orange County Arts Commission in 2016. The concrete slab was in desperate need of some color, but it would take four years for Katie’s vision to come to life.
Enter Carlos González García, an artist who moved to Hillsborough from Mexico in 2020 and was looking for a space to start a mosaic school in the area. The pandemic halted his plans, but he soon discovered that he and Katie shared a mutual desire to get the community involved in a project that would provide a bit of fun and distraction during quarantine.
“We immediately became friends, as I was trying to help him find space for the school, and then COVID happened,” Katie says. “Both of us were super sad and thinking, ‘What can we do to cheer people up?’ But I think we also were trying to cheer ourselves up.”
Carlos first had an idea to make a video showing how to craft mosaics at home. The two then decided to turn the venture into a public art project. Hillsborough community members would create their own 16-by-16-inch mosaic tiles made from materials ranging from beer caps to buttons and submit them as a piece of the final result – a mural on that empty parking deck wall.
Volunteers had three months to make their mosaics, and for many, it was a family affair with parents and children working together on the project. Carlos created a guide for participants to follow, detailing the supplies needed and step-by-step instructions for how to create a mosaic tile. The only requirement for the tiles was that they needed to include a heart; otherwise, the volunteers had free reign to create their own masterpieces.
The Arts Commission set up tables outside of its office at the Eno River Mill for participants to turn in their mosaics over a few weeks in October to avoid crowds. They ended up receiving 157 tiles, the exact number Katie and Carlos needed to create the 14-foot-tall, 20-foot-wide piece, which was completed in November.
The center of the mural features the phrase “Love Hillsborough,” with each of the letters crafted by prominent figures in the Hillsborough community, including Mayor Jenn Weaver and Commissioner Mark Bell. N.C. House Rep. Graig Meyer created the letter “I” out of legos with his sons, William and Mason. “We’ve loved Legos for our whole lives, and we still play with them now,” William, 13 and an eighth grader at A.L. Stanback Middle School, says. “The color on the inside of the ‘I’ represents Hillsborough, and everything outside of that is gray …” adds Mason, 16 and a junior at Cedar Ridge High School. “It took us about two hours.”
Carlos and Katie collaborated on the placement of each of the tiles, and Carlos grouted them, completing the mural installation in just three days.
Katie says that this project also served as a way for the community to get to know Carlos and learn about mosaics before he opens his school. “When the time comes, he now has a built-in audience of over 150 families,” she says.
Carlos hopes to offer classes in the Eno River Mill early this year. In the meantime, he’s manufacturing glass to sell as material for mosaics. He says he’s looking forward to providing these supplies to the community and hopes people will continue to experiment with mosaics. He and Katie agree that working on this project shows the resilience and creativity of the Hillsborough community and the unique way that art can bring people together.
“It was a project of love,” Carlos says. “In hard times, love wins over anything else, including the pandemic.” CHM